Eight years ago, I gave birth to my first child. More than anything, I wanted to be the perfect mother that my little son deserved, but I was also completely unprepared for the overwhelming challenges of motherhood. I was shocked by how needy and dependent I felt – I was suffering from an unexpected bout of postpartum depression, and I was not getting any sleep. Up until this point in my life, I had unconsciously found much of my worth in what I could do for others. Now, my whole world had shifted, and I was the one who was in desperate need of help. However, when other moms asked me if I needed anything, my response was a simple “No, thanks.” I already felt so inadequate, and the idea of reaching out for help seemed like a public announcement of my inadequacy.
I wanted to push away that unwelcome feeling of vulnerability. I wanted to be in control. I continued to isolate myself from other moms, and I experienced an even deeper depression as a result, one that lasted nearly two years. I literally felt imprisoned: trapped by my own inability to reach out to others. I am a slow learner, but God is faithful, and after undergoing two more bouts of depression and isolation with my subsequent children, I finally acknowledged my own need for support. When I became pregnant with my fourth child, I knew I could not walk through that darkness alone again, and I asked for help. I can gratefully say that it was the loving response of my friends and family that carried me through that challenging pregnancy and postpartum time.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a similar story that has a different ending from mine. There was once a servant who found himself in a position of complete need and dependency. He owed his King what would be the modern day equivalent of millions of dollars, a sum too great to ever be repaid. Can you imagine owing someone that much money? The amount of shame and hopelessness he felt must have been overwhelming. The King goes to him to collect the debt, and the servant responds by begging for more time so that he could repay the King the full amount. I want to emphasize here that the servant did not ask for his debt to be forgiven. Yet, the King responds with an amazingly generous and unexpected act of mercy when he actually forgives the entire debt, without any conditions. Most of us know the end of the story: the servant was clearly unable to allow the king’s mercy to transform his heart. He ended up being thrown in jail, left in total isolation.
Much like my irrational postpartum self not wanting to ask for help from others, the servant was not willing to ask for his debts to be paid. Even though he so clearly needed help, he blindly insisted that he could do it himself. Instead of admitting his need for mercy, he tried to remain in control of an impossible situation. Perhaps, like myself, he found his worth in being the giver, and couldn’t imagine being on the receiving end of so much generosity. Ultimately, his need to control his own circumstances and his inability to receive the King’s gift led to his isolation and imprisonment.
Of course, the King in the story is God, who wants to give us his limitless mercy. When Jesus cried out “It is finished!” on the cross, the Greek translation, tetelestai, literally means “paid in full.” His mercy is unconditional; it has already been won for us. But why doesn’t it transform our lives? Jesus told St. Faustina, “Tell souls not to place within their own hearts obstacles to My mercy, which so greatly wants to act within them.”
I believe that the biggest obstacle to God’s mercy is a lack of vulnerability on our part.
Why is vulnerability so hard? Personally, I struggle with feeling that it is wrong to be indebted to someone. And we tend to gauge our worth by our ability to perform our job well. Relying on someone else for help can seem to be an admission of failure.
But if we want to become saints, it is necessary for us to be indebted to Jesus.
The reality is that we are limited beings, and we are not meant to supply our every need (much less the needs of our families!) by ourselves. As a homeschooling mom with four children under the age of eight, I am no stranger to failure. Some days I fly high. I feel as if I am on top of the world – in control of everything! Most days, though, my responsibilities overwhelm me and I feel like I’m drowning. Even as I excel in one area of my life, another responsibility is being neglected. On days when I focus on schooling the older kids and playing with my toddlers, the house is a mess! When I turn my attention to cleaning, I feel like I’m neglecting my kids. Every day, numerous times, I am given a choice: to admit my insufficiency and ask for mercy, or to grasp for more control.
Speaking of herself, St. Therese insisted, “God’s mercy alone brought about everything that is good in her.” Like the King in the parable who wanted to pay his servant’s debts, our generous heavenly Father delights in being needed by his children, which is why our weakness attracts his mercy in a special way. When I yell at my kids, I can make an act of contrition and then smile at God, thankful for that reminder of how indebted I am to him for everything. When I completely fail as a wife and mom, I can fall to my knees and count on his mercy with total confidence. Amazing grace, day in and day out.
When we see with eyes of faith, we are no longer overwhelmed by our failures, but by the mercy of our God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us together face the reality of our need, and ask God to give us vulnerable hearts that can receive the riches of his mercy. And let us trust that his mercy will be the determining factor in our lives, bringing about every good thing for us and for those we love.
Let’s pray together:
Father, I thank you for sending your Son to pay my debt of sin and obtain every grace necessary for me to do your will today. I acknowledge my need for your mercy and my inability to perform any good work on my own. When I see my weakness, it fills me with joy because I know I can turn to you, and I trust that you will heal me. I ask your forgiveness now for any ways that I have offended you. I especially ask for your abundant mercy to provide for those areas of my life where I feel as if I am failing. Help me to succeed in the roles you have placed me in. Holy Spirit, show me any areas where you may want me to receive your forgiveness and mercy more deeply, and also help me to give this same unconditional mercy to those who have hurt me. I praise you for your generosity and faithfulness in my life! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.